Robert S. Miller, MD, a medical oncologist at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, was an ASCO board member and the liaison to its Information Technology Committee when the society first started exploring social media in 2007.
He began experimenting with Twitter and started posting blog entries to ASCO's original social networking site.
“I personally at that time didn't have much interest in it, but I took one for the team,” he said in a telephone interview.
Five years later, ASCO's original online community has been replaced by ASCOconnection.org, a robust professional networking site with a long list of bloggers, groups, interests, and opportunities for ASCO members to connect and share information.
Miller has become a daily Twitter user with approximately 1,650 followers. He has started a podcast series in which he highlights Journal of Oncology Practice articles by interviewing their authors. And his interest level in social media has moved from minimal to enthusiastic.
“I think the time is coming very soon where physicians are not going to have a choice except to become involved, at some level, in social media,” he said. “Increasingly there are patient expectations that physician voices will be found in the social media spaces. I personally believe that there is a lot more to be gained than there is to be lost.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
How has ASCO's presence in social media evolved?
“I am definitely pleased. ASCO Connection is a more comprehensive social networking site, with a lot of different functionality, including blogging, discussion boards, and links to other ASCO resources. It started with maybe seven or eight bloggers…and that has really grown.
“One of the greatest things that happened to the ASCO blogging experience has been Dr. George Sledge. When he was ASCO president last year, he obviously took blogging to heart, and he became very active on the ASCO site. It was wonderful to read everything he wrote and, in a way, he sort of legitimized it as a platform.” [Editor's Note: Dr. Sledge alsoblogsand writes for OT.]
What attracts you to Twitter?
“This developed very gradually as I learned that there was this community of other users that became, for me, a personal learning network—people whom I follow and read their content and from whom I learn a lot of things that I might not have otherwise have time to research.
“My Twitter interests are twofold. One is obviously the practice of oncology, but the other is my health IT role, both at Johns Hopkins and activities through ASCO.
“One of the reasons I stayed with Twitter as a content producer is that the more tweeting you do, the more people follow you, and the more people who follow you, the more you discover people who share your interests and who might be interesting for you to follow.
“Right now, I use Twitter pretty much on a daily basis as a means of ongoing professional education.”
You have produced about 16 podcasts in the last couple of years. How did that come about?
“I have been an editorial board member of the Journal of Oncology Practice since its founding, and it occurred to me several years ago that podcasting was something that the JOP should try to see if this might promote its content outside of the traditional print and online offerings.
“[JOP Editor Dr. John Cox] and the editorial board and I look at the articles in each issue and decide what might fit well for a podcast. Then we approach the authors, most of whom are very generous with their time. I contact them and give them some suggested questions, write a rough script, and set up a time to do it over Skype. I do all the audio post-production myself on the Mac. That is a little time-consuming because I'm not really an expert on these things. The ASCO staff help disseminate it through our iTunes page.
Almost all the software I use to create the podcast is native to the Mac or is shareware that is fairly inexpensive. The only thing ASCO purchased for me was a $100 USB microphone, which has really improved the sound quality.
“To produce a professional audio program, you have to realize that people are not going to listen if the audio quality is bad, or if the interviewer isn't able to bring out the right thing in the interviewee—things that, as a physician, you are not typically going to be familiar with. Larry King, I am not, but I am enjoying doing this and have been blessed by interesting and articulate guests. I think there is a very small number of docs who are going to want to create their own podcasts, but if they do, it has certainly become much easier in the last few years because the software available to do it is either free or low cost.”
Any advice for physicians who are reluctant to use social media?
“Most of the discussions about social media and the physician's role start with the negative aspects about risks to privacy, concerns about time, etc. I personally believe that while those barriers are real and there are many implications that need to be understood before you dive into this stuff, the barriers to entry are pretty small.
“Take Twitter, for example. It is not hard to get started on Twitter. That's how I got started, with just a few followers, but pretty soon you develop these communities, and depending on how important it is to you, you can become recognized as a content creator.
“Maintaining a physician blog can be a lot of work, but it is a great opportunity for physicians to give a voice to topics that are important to them and more importantly, to their colleagues or their patients.
“My take-home message for docs is: social media in general are not a fad. It's not something that is specific to the younger generation; this is increasingly a mainstream form of communication. We need to understand it more and where it fits in with our practices and professional lives; we need to focus on the positives and the way that it might enhance practice, rather than on the barriers.”
Breast cancer oncologist and medical information officer, Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Interests: #ehr [electronic health records] #hcsm [health care social media]. JOP [Journal of Oncology Practice] podcaster. Associate Editor, Cancer.Net. Co-chair, PEHRC [Physicians' Electronic Health Record Coalition].
#8 in a Continuing Series
Previous Oncology Social Media Profiles can be found in this Collection on the OT website: http://bit.ly/OT-OncologySocial MediaProfiles